A psychologically troubled novelty supplier is nudged towards a romance with an English woman, all the while being extorted by a phone-sex line run by a crooked mattress salesman, and purchasing stunning amounts of pudding.
Paul Thomas Anderson
Philip Seymour Hoffman
During the psychedelic 60s and 70s Larry "Doc" Sportello is surprised by his former girlfriend and her plot for her billionaire boyfriend, his wife, and her boyfriend. A plan for kidnapping gets shaken up by the oddball characters entangled in this groovy kidnapping romp based upon the novel by Thomas Pynchon.Written by
Paul Thomas Anderson's seventh film, Inherent Vice, is a surreal, kinky, and stoned epic of mammoth proportions. The fact that Anderson decided to be the first director adapt the wild prose of Thomas Pynchon is an achievement in of itself. Set in Los Angeles in the early Seventies, Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) awakens from his stony stupor when his ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) tries to find sanctuary from her real-estate mogul boyfriend, his wife, and her boyfriend. In traditional noir fashion, not all is simple as it sounds as a bigger presence is involved with a cavalcade of characters thrown into Doc's world; a heroin-addicted sax player from a surf-rock band (Owen Wilson), a coked- up dentist with the libido of a rabbit (Martin Short), and an LAPD officer/failed actor (Josh Brolin) busting anyone with long-hair and forming a strange love/hate bond with Doc.
The film is a hybrid of comedy, romance, and mystery inspired by the major film-noir flicks of the 1940s, such as Howard Hawks' The Big Sleep and Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear, except that rather than having Sam Spade chain smoke cigarettes and drink gimlets, you have Doc Sportello smoking endless joints and drinking tequila zombies. Anderson's perspective of Los Angeles in the Seventies has been shown before in Boogie Nights in all its hedonistic glory, but in the case of Inherent Vice, he manages to capture the mood of L.A. in an earthy, yet naive glow that mirrors the energy and fear that erupted in the wake of the Manson murders and the rise of Nixon's silent majority. No matter how you slice it, Anderson's film fits in the tapestry of other L.A. noir classics like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, but with the comedic antics of a Cheech and Chong film or an episode of Gilligan's Island.
Joaquin Phoenix gives a brilliantly-nuanced performance as Pynchon's anti-hero private eye. Unlike his last collaboration with Anderson on The Master, Phoenix reigns in his eccentricity with a relaxed, yet stoned, approach and manages to not make Sportello into a clichéd character of the counterculture thanks to the sharp wit and dialogue of Anderson's screenplay. Josh Brolin's performance as Bigfoot Bjornsen is brilliantly comical and tragic as he tries to walk amongst the Indica-smoke streets with the power and authority of Jack Webb from Dragnet. Katherine Waterston gives a remarkable performance as Doc's former flame as she gives a raw and naked performance that is both sympathetic and mysterious. Despite being on film for only ten minutes, Martin Short gives a performance of comedic gold with the eccentricity and insanity as equally as funny as his alter egos like Ed Grimley and Jiminy Glick. Among the other actors who fill out the film, Reese Witherspoon as an assistant D.A. and Doc's part-time love interest, Benecio Del Toro as Doc's confidant and Owen Wilson each give solid performances.
Jonny Greenwood, in his third collaboration with Anderson as composer, creates a score that mirrors the Noir-fashioned sounds of Jerry Goldsmith mixed with the psychedelic sounds of the Laurel Canyon music scene of the early Seventies. Also, the music of Neil Young's Harvest album adds an emotional depth to the romantic interludes between Doc and the women in his life. Robert Elswit's cinematography is as excellent as his previous collaborations with Anderson as he manages to capture the long, strange trip into the underbelly of Los Angeles. Inherent Vice may be at times incoherent and somewhat dense as Pynchon's novel, but it is one hell of a trip!
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